Sex advice and the UI law school for Dan Savage


John Edwards, Tom Vilsack, and Dan Savage — these three men have very little in common. Edwards and Vilsack are prominent politicians, while the last rose to fame as a sex-advice columnist.

The connecting thread among the two government figures (albeit, one now ex-government) and Savage, an openly gay man famous for challenging bureaucratic standards of sexuality, is the UI College of Law’s annual symposium for the Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice. Often, politicians have spoken in the past; Savage will bring something new to the forum this year.

Tonight at hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn St., Savage will give the keynote address at the law school’s 2009 symposium “As Iowa Goes, So Goes the Nation: Varnum v. Brien and Its Impact on Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples.”

Savage — most famous for his humorous sex-advice column Savage Love — has received more attention since California’s passage of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. He became a go-to guy for many cable-news channels, because of his humorous and blunt speaking style.

Symposium coordinator Emily Winfield said the event officials chose the sex-advice columnist and journalist to speak because he has proven to be popular with Iowa City audiences. He visited Iowa City in 2006 as a part of the UI’s lecture series.

Winfield said Savage fulfilled the goal of presenting a speaker who would “spark discussion.”

“The journal’s mission is to … talk about those topics that make people shift in their seats a little bit, that make them a little uncomfortable,” she said. “Not in an offensive way or an accusatory way, but to just get people thinking about same-sex marriage as more than a legal question pending before the court. To think about it as a social issue, a political issue, a religious issue.”

Savage’s presentation will differ from most of his speeches, Winfield said. Normally, he will briefly speak and then take questions, allowing him to showcase the wit that made him popular. Tonight’s speech, however, will not feature a question and answer, though he will be available afterwards to sign books.

This year’s symposium has more events planned that appeal to people outside of the legal/academic community, Winfield said. The group will present oral arguments in Varnum vs. Brien, along with “Freeheld: The Laurel Hester Story,” an Oscar-winning short documentary. Discussion panels will feature practicing attorneys and legal scholars and will also include social scientists and historians.

Winfield chose to open the dialogue across academic disciplines to reflect her belief that the issue of same-sex marriage is not just a legal issue but has reverberations to many parts of society, she said.
Nicholas Benson, a student writer for the Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice who has helped publicize the symposium, believes the community supports Savage’s appearance, despite his sometimes controversial nature.

“A lot of the people in the community, if they are uncomfortable, haven’t said anything about it,” he said.

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